”What is the meaning of this?”
Tony looks up from whatever he is tinkering with in his workshop, eyes landing on the… the… the thing Loki just found on his bed.
Instead of cowering before Loki’s glare, the man brightens in a grin. ”That’s a snake plushie,” he said. ”Don’t think I didn’t notice you making eyes at the anaconda on the TV the other day. This way, you get to snuggle with it without the danger of getting eaten by it.”
Loki narrows his eyes. ”You want me to… snuggle with it?”
Tony just laughs at him, still clearly not put out by Loki’s ire.
”Yeah, it’s a plushie. They’re common here on Earth, although most are a lot smaller. They’re cute and fluffy.” He gets up and pats Loki on the shoulder. ”It’s a gift. It’s not out to get you.”
Loki eyes the… plushie again. It is rather cute. In a childish sort of way. ”...thank you?” he winds up saying. He’s too confused to say anything else.
Apparently, Tony isn’t put off by the questioning note in Loki’s voice. He just shrugs. ”Yeah, you’re welcome. Pepper has decided I can’t gift her big stuffed animals anymore, and a man sometimes has urges to gift people big stuffed animals.”
With that, the man saunters back to his workshop, leaving Loki feeling no less perplexed than before.
Loki spends longer than he would like to admit, ruminating over this gift. And finally, he decides it must be some sort of prank.
It is the only thing that makes sense. There has been no gift giving occasion recently, they are not courting, and it would be so like Tony to pull a prank by being nice.
Loki is annoyed at how well it worked, how befuddled it has left him. And the only thing to do is to return the favour. If Tony will prank and confuse Loki by being nice, Loki will be even more nice.
Which is why Loki pays attention the next time they’re in a coffee shop together, taking note of what Tony orders. And three days later, Loki shows up in the living room, where Tony is currently busy reviewing some paperwork, a giant cup of coffee and a blueberry muffin in hand.
”I come bearing gifts,” Loki says, keeping a lid on how smug he feels. He is going to beat Tony so hard at his own game. He is going to out-nice Tony, and he will win this.
Tony looks up, frowning for a second before he breaks into a surprised grin. ”Lokes, you shouldn’t have,” he grins, making grabby hands. Loki willingly put the coffee and the paperbag with the muffin on the table. Predictably, Tony goes for the coffee first, but he soon peeks into the paperbag, making a delighted little noise of surprise. It really shouldn’t be as endearing as it is.
”My favourite,” he grins. ”Aw, Lokes, I knew you liked me.”
This time, Loki allows his answering smile to be a little bit smug.
Take that, Tony. Loki is so good at being nice.
It doesn’t end there.
If anything, Tony seems to have taken it as encouragement, and the battle has turned into a war.
The next day, Tony has left a few books on Loki’s desk, with a note about Midgardian fiction genres and an explanation of what ’fantasy’ is, and how Loki might enjoy it.
Curiosity piqued, Loki does start reading. And he is deeply annoyed to find that Tony is right.
He retaliates by taking Tony to a car show.
And so the ball is rolling.
Tony buys a whole cheesecake, just for Loki alone. Loki finds some alien technology for Tony to tinker with.
Tony surprises Loki with tickets to a performance of Shakespeare. Loki takes Tony to the science museum.
Tony buys Loki the most luscious green silk scarf anyone is likely to get their hands on. Loki gets Tony a watch.
But no matter what Loki does, Tony is always ready to get back at him.
The final drop comes when Tony gets Loki flowers.
Because all those gifts and outings have, Loki is afraid to admit, had a bit of an effect on him.
He’s… well, he’s developed feelings for Tony.
Seeing Tony’s face in candlelight at a wonderful Italian restaurant. The delighted laugh whenever Loki manages to surprise him with a particularly good prank. The way he takes the time to seek Loki out and the way he will spend hours talking about whatever book Loki just read or whatever device Tony just took apart.
How was Loki ever supposed to resist him?
But Loki also knows this won’t do. Tony is trying to outdo him, not woo him. There is a line that must not be crossed.
And flowers? Such a typical gesture of romance? That is absolutely crossing the line.
”Why would you do this?” Loki hisses. Tony appears to be confused.
Keyword being ’appears’, Loki is sure.
”Because I like you?” Tony frowns. ”Do you not do the whole flower thing on Asgard? It’s a nice gesture, I promise.”
”You will not win this by pulling such overtly romantic gestures, Stark,” Loki swears. ”This doesn’t count!”
Tony just blinks at him. And then… he laughs.
He… laughs. He laughs. He laughs? He laughs?
Now it is Loki’s turn to look thoroughy confused.
”What is so funny?” he demands.
”Babe, I don’t know how courtship works on Asgard, but here on Earth, it’s not about beating each other or matching each other gesture for gesture. It’s not a competition.”
Loki’s pretty sure his mind just came to a screeching halt.
It’s not a competition. It was never a competition. All along, Tony’s liked him back and been nice for the sake of being nice. All along, Loki assumed this to be some elaborate scheme, and truly Tony just wanted to court him?
Loki decides to maybe not mention his mistake. He quite likes the idea that Tony is being nice to him for genuine reasons.
Still, if Loki pulls him in for a kiss, and he privately considers it to be the final, winning blow of the war, before it turns permanently into courtship only, nobody has to know.
Loki won, in every single way he could have won this. That’s all that matters, as far as he’s concerned.